Director Mark Mylod brings a terrifyingly unique story to the screen in his newest comedy horror film The Menu.
The film begins with service worker Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and food connoisseur Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) waiting for a boat to take them to an isolated island where renowned chef Julian Slovik (Ralph Fiennes) owns Hawthorne, a prestigious restaurant. Margot and Tyler are accompanied by a wealthy and selective group of businessmen, politicians, and actors—all of whom are foodies, with the exception of Margot.
Throughout The Menu, Mylod exposes the contrast between how society’s upper class and lower class view dining. While Julian presents lavish, conceptual meals for tasting, Margot is satisfied with a simple, filling meal. The chefs at Hawthorne and Tyler make food their obsession and see it as their passion rather than a necessity.
Julian and his assistant Elsa (Hong Chau) carefully curate the guest list for the evening, and while Julian invites most of the guests himself, Tyler begs to be invited over email. Julian requires Tyler to bring a guest. Tyler invites a different girl than Margot, which is obvious when Elsa asks for a name other than Margot’s when she and Tyler are checked in.
While it may not seem like a major issue at first, Tyler bringing a different guest than he originally planned to is a big deal to Julian and his workers, which they make obvious by continuing to bring it up throughout the evening. This odd behavior toward Margot’s presence helps set the eerie mood of the movie as it leaves the audience wondering why this substitution matters so much.
From the start of the film, food proves to be a prominent element in The Menu. The audience gets a glimpse into the intense working conditions found in kitchens at high-end restaurants. Intricate scenes in which the camera zooms in on meat grilling and swirls of sauces focus on how the beauty of culinary art is created.
Julian possesses a captivating authority within the kitchen and dining room, foreshadowing his menacing character revealed later in the film. Fiennes perfectly captures the essence of an egocentric chef who experiences the highs of glory and the lows of defeat, causing emotional turmoil.
The movie progresses chronologically with the tasting menu’s courses. All diners, besides Margot, consume the lavish and expensive-looking dishes. As the horrors around them become more gruesome and intense, such as a guest’s finger getting cut off and one of the sous chef’s shooting themself, the guests realize they may not make it out of the five-course dinner alive.
Tyler, the most food-obsessed guest of the evening—and the one who begged to be invited to the affair—is oblivious to the heinous acts being committed at the event.
As each course passes, the growing tension between Julian and his guests becomes more explicit. Some scenes contain horrific jump scares and violence, aligning the movie with the horror genre.
But rather than making a full-time horror movie, Mylod diverges from gore and violence at times to focus on the complex stories of the guests.
In the second course, Julian refuses to serve bread as an appetizer, claiming that bread is only for commoners and not for socialites like his guests. Instead of heartier meals, Julian serves his guests drops of different sauces and soups. It seems ironic that while the pretentious upper-class guests pay so much, they receive such a small product in return. The diners are outraged, capturing a key theme of the film, that people are ignorant to the basic needs in life until they realize they are gone.